Sat, May 03, 2008 - Page 19 News List

Ovechkin cleared to play for Russia, Pitkanen pulls out

AFP , HALIFAX, CANADA

Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin has been cleared to play in the IIHF World Hockey Championships after team officials were able to resolve his insurance issues.

Ovechkin had been traveling with the team but unable to play until the Russian Hockey Federation could insure the record 13-year, US$124 million contract he signed with the Washington Capitals.

He took part in his first practice with his Russian teammates on Wednesday.

Finnish defenseman Joni Pitkanen meanwhile pulled out of the championships with a knee injury, but he wasn’t getting much sympathy from head coach Doug Sheddon.

“I wouldn’t put a gun to anyone’s head to play for their country,” said Sheddon who is convinced the injury wasn’t all that serious.

“The commitment has to be better and I didn’t see a whole lot of commitment from him,” Sheddon said.

Pitkanen, who plays for the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League, told team officials he hurt the knee while lifting weights on Monday.

“If a guy is injured and doesn’t want to be here, then we don’t want him here,” Sheddon said of Pitkanen, who is in the midst of trying to renegotiate his NHL contract with the Oilers.

“It’s a contract year and when it’s a contract year and they break a thumbnail it hurts a little bit more,” the coach said.

“We don’t have a whole lot of NHL defensemen, especially ones who can skate like a deer,” he said.

Finland picked up Olympic and World veteran Teemu Selanne on Wednesday, which will help soften the blow of losing one of their best skating defenseman.

Finland’s opening Group C game is today against Germany.

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